Zooms vs Primes - a circular journey

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by pdk42, Dec 31, 2014.

  1. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    I've been doing some more gear churning recently and I thought I'd share my journey on the zoom vs prime debate.

    I'm old enough to have learned my photography in the days of film and I ran first a Pentax and then a Canon 35mm system. On the Pentax I only ever used primes and on the Canon only ever zooms. When I upgraded to digital Canon gear, the zoom leaning continued with a couple of primes thrown in for good measure.

    When I switched to u43, I mostly went primes - for all the reasons why so many of us do - small, light, handling, great quality etc. For most of this year I've been running a Rok 7.5/9-18/12/17/25/45/75 everyday combo and whilst I really enjoyed it (and got great results), I eventually found that carrying all those lenses with all the associated swapping was wearing a bit thin.

    So, I've decided to go back to a more zoom-oriented setup, and a Panasonic one at that - 7-14, 12-35 and 35-100. Those three lenses will mostly replace the entire 7 lenses I listed above. Based on detailed comparisons I've done, I'm not going to lose anything on IQ. Modern zooms are pretty much up there with the primes.

    Of course, I'll lose out on a couple of things:

    - Size and weight of each individual lens. Of course, the ensemble will be lighter, so I can live with this on the shoulder, but I have to admit the handling of each lens on the camera will be a step down.

    - Slower max aperture. I mostly shoot landscapes and cityscapes, so this isn't a loss for the photography I do.

    On the plus side:

    - Zooms for landscape and cityscapes are more flexible than primes. Zooming with the feet isn't a concept that works for mountains several miles away!

    - Far fewer lens changes.

    I'll keep the 17/1.8 for general purpose low light work and given how good the 45/1.8 is and how little I'll get for it second hand I may as well keep that too. I think I'll also keep the Rokfish too - it's such a fun lens and also pretty cheap. The rest have or shortly will go.

    Anyhow - this isn't me trying to make a case to convert anyone else. Photography is such a personal thing that we all need to make our decisions based on what suits our needs/desires. I just thought it might make an interesting topic for some chat!!
    • Like Like x 6
  2. JNB

    JNB Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Very understandable. As you say, the zooms are more versatile, don't give up anything with regards to IQ, and little with regards to aperture. Somehow, however, I've ended up with the 12mm f/2, the 17 f/1.8 the PL25 f/1.4, 45 f/1.8, PL 45 f/2.8 Macro, and 75 f/1.8, and I do enjoy that shooting experience (I often take two bodies with primes mounted). My zooms are consumer-level: 9-18, 14-45, 45-150. What goes with me depends on the light, the location, and the subject matter.
  3. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    I keep the primes mainly for low light cityscape work which also allows me to stay within ISO 1600 and below. I use the 17 1.8 a lot followed by the PL 25 1.4 and along with my 55 Micro-Nikkor with focal reducer (76mm FF Fov equiv) as my only telephoto. The zooms are used in good light and decent light up to 3200. My landscape rig consists of Bower 14mm with focal reducer (20mm 1.4 FF Fov) with 14-54 and 35-100 or 70-300. That's all I need as I shoot both 4/3 DSLR and m43 bodies together. The least used prime is the Lumix 14, but was surprised I used the 9mm body cap FE more than the Lumix 14 pancake. Lumix 14 is on my chopping block for 2015. Less lenses but focused on the ones I use the most! Both my prime lens kit and my zoom kit has at least 1 lens that allows me to focus close (quasi-macro) as I sometimes shoot that. The prime is the 55 Micro-Nikkor and the zoom side is the 14-54mm.
  4. ManofKent

    ManofKent Hopefully still learning

    Dec 26, 2014
    Faversham, Kent, UK
    I generally prefer shooting with primes - I'd largely been using Nikon bodies since the early 80's (still occasionally dust off the old FE) and have a decent collection of manual Nikkors, but the weight of the D700 and a handful of primes was meaning I generally left the camera at home. I picked up a 24-105 zoom and started using that (under-rated lens), but since switching to a pair of GM1s I'm now using primes for the shorter focal lengths, and just using zooms for the longer length stuff. I suppose the Olympus 12-50 is as close as I'm going to get to the 24-105, and the close-up/macro function is tempting...
  5. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 25, 2012
    Your reasoning sounds pretty sound. I have a combination of zooms and primes, because there are times when one is better than the other.

    My 12-40 is my go to lens when I need the convience of a zoom and weight is not an issue. I'm very happy with the optical performance of the 12-40 (more so than the panasonic 12-35). It is as sharp or sharper than some of my primes.

    When I want small and light weight, or I need that extra stop of light I can use the 17mm/45mm combo. I have since gotten the 75mm and am now thinking of dropping the 45mm. the 45/75mm I tend to use more as a portrait lens.

    I do not use long telephoto range that much, so atm the cheap oly 40-150 suffices.

    I have the oly 60mm as a specialist lens for macro
  6. Pecos

    Pecos Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 20, 2013
    The Natural State
    When I shot w/Nikon, I most often used the 16-85mm zoom which I found very versatile and very good. (pretty large, too) Now and then I'd put a normal lens on the D300. With m43 I'm mostly using primes and enjoying it.
    When I go out to an even at which I want good shots I'll take two primes - one on camera and one in shirt or pants pocket. But when I go out for the purpose of shooting I'll take all my lenses in a Retrospective bag. I personally find I get better shots with prime lenses -- not because the image quality is better, but I think more about composition and lighting w/primes, while I shoot away with less planning with a zoom.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. shermanshen

    shermanshen Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 28, 2014
    I find myself on the same journey as OP. Started with kit lens, over time acquired sigma 19mm, pana 25mm, oly 45 &75. Next was the 12-40mm f2.8 followed by the 35-100mm f2.8. I love the convenience of the zoom and the fact that all my bases are covered without having to do any switching. Despite that, I find that I tend to get a little lazy with my photography after shooting more with zooms, and I was wanting something smaller again.

    My most recent purchase was a Ricoh GR after pondering a 15mm f1.7. For about the same price, I get a pocketable prime lens with an aps-c sensor. I find myself really excited about the possibilities as well as the limitations this camera presents!
  8. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Much depends on the quality of the zoom and, I think to some extent, the zoom range of the lens.

    Some say that a primes make you think more about what you're doing, but a single focal length gives you one field of view and you simply adjust your position, locked to that field of view.

    When you start to consider a shot using a zoom lens, the zoom offers many more options and you really have to think about what you see in, and want from, the scene. The multiple options a zoom offers actually makes it harder in a way and forces you to think about composition, perspective etc, if you want to do things properly.

    The flexibility of a zoom lens can be a blessing and a curse.
    • Like Like x 3
    • Agree Agree x 3
  9. AlanU

    AlanU Mu-43 Veteran

    May 2, 2012
    Since you'll be shooting small apertures in most cases in your type of photography....zooms is a logical choice ;)

    If you use to be a canon user they recently introduced the 16-35L f/4 IS. Canon ******s :p (myself included haha) seem to be extremely pleased with this new lens especially corner sharpess. I don't own this lens but I'll have to say its an incredible prime lens found in a zoom :)

    In my case in the m43 world I am extremely limited in my lens selection but as a secondary system it somewhat meets my needs. My only concern is the speed factor for my style of shooting. Speed regarding fast enough shutter speeds at higher iso's. Fast primes barely meets my requirements but for challenging light (no flash) primes barely provide "just enough" shutter speed to stop motion blur.

    With the M43 system the zooms will make me pull out my flash sooner than i really want to.

    I guess choosing your tools for specific tasks is what it's all about.....
  10. bigboysdad

    bigboysdad Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 25, 2013
    Sydney/ London
    I can see myself eventually using zooms only, in view of the improved iq these days, there's just 3 things stopping me atm:

    1) That comment from Ozray rings so true.

    2) Size. I do like stealth in a lot of shooting environments.

    3) Low light. I'm not young, but still, not too old to go out shooting at night in busy environments and the primes currently have the edge in that regard.

    Plus there's the 75, it's hard to imagine any zoom being on par with that.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Dave Reynell

    Dave Reynell Guest

    Just a thought from a fan of primes. How about cutting back on the number ?

    I too came from 30 years of Pentax (35mm) usage and got by with a 35/3.5, (replaced later with a 24/2.8), a 50/1.7 and a 135/2.5. Three lenses, no more.

    I now have a five (heading for six) year old Panny G1, with: Oly 12/2, Panny 20/1.7 and a Sigma 60/2.8 (no longer use the "kit" 14/45). These three lenses cover most of my photographic requirements. Easy to carry about, faster and more compact than most zooms.

    BUT, having said this, I DO realise that we all fall into one of two camps. The zoom users and the prime guys, and we'll argue with each other until we are blue in the face !

    Most of all, enjoy your photography.

    • Like Like x 3
  12. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    I never believed that zooms or primes need to be a mutually exclusive thing. I go back to the old saying - right tool for the job.

    Sometimes one makes sense over the other.
    • Like Like x 4
    • Agree Agree x 1
  13. JNB

    JNB Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Yeah, one of my favourite kits from the film days was an Olympus OM-1, with 35mm f/2 and 85mm f/2. Of course I now have the 17 f/1.8 and 45 f/1.8 to approximate that kit. But I've also been spoiled by the wide perspective of the 12, and the 75 is so good when it's the right focal length, that I find it hard to leave them behind. Fortunately, a single body and 12, 17, 45, 75 all fit in a very small bag (currently a TT Hubba Hubba Hiney).
    • Like Like x 1
  14. mistermark

    mistermark Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 16, 2012
    I find my styles of picture-taking, and the situations these suit, vary between primes and zooms. So for me it is not just about optical quality or speed.

    With my three primes (12, 25, 60 Zuiko) my feet are my zoom, a principle that works better at close range in situation such as street shooting than in grand landscapes where it can take minutes to do what a zoom can in less than a second, potentially losing the light.
  15. AlanU

    AlanU Mu-43 Veteran

    May 2, 2012
    I can agree with you more. I just try to understand why there is such a rift between zoom and prime shooters. I still haven't jumped into fully committing to M43 but I will go with zooms and primes. When I use a zoom lens I shoot with the lens as if I'm using a prime. I'll select the FL and foot zoom to compose. This way I have infinite perspective.

    I shoot primes equally as much but this is where I lose the total control of perspective since a prime is "stuck" at 1 focal length.

    My primary system I have a large selection of pro primes and zooms to maximize IQ regardless of what situation. If there's ample light I will happily grab zooms but in low light with no flash photography I'll grab a zoom. When there's a calling for shallow dof I'll grab a prime. Run and gunning a ceremony or reception I'll have a mix of 1 prime on one camera and zoom on the other. I couldn't imagine eliminating a zoom or prime out of my gearbag.
  16. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 20, 2014
    Then I'm afraid there are three camps:

    • Primes Only Users

    • Zoom Only Users

    • Zoom & Prime Users

    I've been in all 3 camps at one time or another and currently fall in latter (both zooms and primes) and have done for several years. I use each one according to my needs at the time.
  17. AlanU

    AlanU Mu-43 Veteran

    May 2, 2012
    So dave what did you dive into? another gh4? or em-1?
  18. fsuscotphoto

    fsuscotphoto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 15, 2013
    St. Cloud, FL
    As small is M4/3 is I find it easy to carry everything that I need, including my 60mm macro, even when I'm not sure I'll use it. I'll have to figure out sometime how many of these lenses it would take to equal the weight of my 150-500 zoom that I used for my Canon.
  19. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 20, 2014
    I have both!
  20. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    For travel a standard zoom covers most bases, for wildlife a telephoto zoom beats a prime for flexibility, but I will always be a 'both' sort of person.

    Right now MFT is my 'zooms' platform, and the A7r my 'Primes' setup. That will likely change when I add the 16-35 FE Sony/Zeiss lens, and possibly the Oly 75/1.8 (when I find a black one for a good price), but I really love having both. It's not an either or proposition for me.
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